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AmRep thrived into the ’90s, releasing incendiary music by the Melvins, Helmet, Cows, Boss Hog and many others that all fell under the same fiercely independent umbrella aesthetically, if not musically. At its peak, Hazelmyer became enamored of Zippo lighters, and quickly fashioned his own wildly popular Smoke King line, festooned with artwork by longtime collaborators and art giants such as Frank Kozik, Shag, Shepard Fairey, R. Crumb and Coop. No marketing plan preceded the venture, just the gut instincts that have served Hazelmyer well all these years.
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For Haze, as he’s known to his friends, one project or idea flows organically into another — all born of a fertile work ethic that found him (“out of boredom”) partnering with his father and his longtime friend Pat Dwyer to open the first Grumpy’s in Coon Rapids in 1995 (sold in 2008), followed by the northeast Minneapolis edition in 1998, downtown Minneapolis in 1999 and Roseville in 2008.
“I’ve never had a problem rolling up my sleeves,” he said, when asked what drives him.
Hazelmyer abhors the word “art,” taking pains to distance himself from anything he deems pretentious or overly intellectual. Watching him work with an X-Acto knife, it’s clear he has more in common with the foundry guys who would spit tobacco while cussing him out on the job than with any art school grad.
He enjoys tinkering. He’s old-school. He’s hellbent on making things, and making things happen (his next act is a cameo in fellow outsider artist Chris Mars’ new feature film “Elkmound”), even when his wife, Lisa, and his doctors have asked him to slow down.
“When I left the hospital, they all told me to take it easier, and I’ve definitely tried to, but I don’t know how lucky I’ve been with that,” he said. “I’ve always been into cars, guns and guitars; always will. Whenever I become a fan of something, I just dive in.”
Jim Walsh is a Minneapolis-based writer and songwriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.